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Best cheap camera 2022: the finest budget cameras you can buy

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV on a blue background - one of the best cheap cameras you can buy
(Image credit: Future)
Editor's Note

Some of the cameras in our list might not be around forever - companies often discontinue older models as the market moves on. A good example of that is the Nikon D3500, which was recently announced as coming to the end of its life. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy one though. It’s a great time to pick up a bargain and get a very usable model at a price that you might not otherwise be able to as retailers look to clear out existing stock. 

Want to find the best cheap camera you can buy right now? Look no further than our buying guide, which will help you to pick up a well-priced snapper just as the cost of living is rising higher than ever.

The latest and best mirrorless cameras are often out of the price ranges of mere mortals, but thanks to how quickly the market has developed in the past few years, there’s some veritable bargains to be had if you don’t mind picking up something a little older. 

Our buying guide is based on hundreds of hours of testing the latest cameras over the past 10 years or so. From our extensive knowledge, we’ve been able to pick out the best cheap cameras that offer you a huge amount for your money right now. We look at a range of factors including usability, image quality, specifications and of course price.

So - exactly what is the best cheap camera? It entirely depends on what you call cheap, but our pick for the best value camera for beginners is the Nikon D3500. Just like most DSLRs, you get great value thanks to some of its older tech (such as an optical viewfinder), without compromising on image quality. With this camera you also get excellent battery life, a good range of affordable compatible lenses and very good image quality. The only thing missing from this package is 4K video - but that won’t be a deal breaker if you don’t shoot many movies. 

There are even cheaper options as well for those with an even stricter budget. A good example is something like the Polaroid Go, which is a cute camera which offers an entry into film photography (remember to be mindful of the added price of film packs). 

Just because your funds are limited, don’t think you can’t get newer tech too. Some mirrorless options, such as the Sony A6000 and the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV have been around long enough to qualify for good value pricing.

Niche options have also been included in our guide, which is handy if you need a cheap camera for something specific. A good example of this is the Akaso Brave 7 LE, which is our top choice for the best cheap action camera, while the Panasonic FZ80 / FZ82 makes a lot of sense if you’re on the lookout for a cheap bridge camera. 

We keep this list updated regularly to make sure all of the models included within it can still be considered good value. If you’re a little baffled about how to choose the best cheap camera, don’t worry on that front - scroll to the bottom of this guide and you’ll find a selection of tips for picking the right affordable camera to fit your needs and budget.

We expect there to be some good deals to be had for Amazon Prime Day when it comes to the best cheap cameras - so keep an eye out if you're looking for a bargain.

Best cheap cameras in 2022:

A Nikon D3500 being held in two hands

The best cheap camera for most people

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: APS-C CMOS, 24.2MP
Lens mount: Nikon F
Screen: 3-inch, 921K dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Continuous shooting: 5fps
Movies: 1080p
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Huge battery life
+
Massive lens selection available

Reasons to avoid

-
No 4K video
-
Screen not touch-sensitive

The Nikon D3400 was a hugely successful and popular DSLR, and the Nikon D3500 has taken its baton into the mirrorless age. DSLRs may be less common now, but they continue to offer excellent value compared to mirrorless cameras due to their optical viewfinders – and the Nikon D3500 remains the best budget camera for beginners.

Key changes over the older D3400 include an improved APS-C sensor (though still with 24MP) and an even better battery life of 1,550 frames per charge, next to the D3400's very capable 1,200 shots per charge. You also get a better grip and a slightly redesigned body that's a bit lighter, too. While it also worth considering mirrorless alternatives the Sony A6000, the D3500 is that bit more user-friendly – particularly if you want to use it with longer lenses.

In our tests, we found that it delivered high-quality images and was super-easy to handle and understand - particularly for beginners.

A Fujifilm X-T200 sitting on a table

(Image credit: TechRadar)
Our favorite mirrorless camera for beginners

Specifications

Sensor size: APS-C CMOS
Resolution: 24.2MP
Viewfinder: EVF OLED, 2,360,000 dots
Monitor: 3.5-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 2,780,000 dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8fps
Movies: 4K
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Great color and dynamic range
+
Sharp 3.5-inch rear touchscreen
+
Sleek, lightweight retro design

Reasons to avoid

-
No subject-tracking in video
-
Low buffer depth

We're still fans of the Fujifilm X-T30, but this cheaper, beginner-friendly version of that camera is our favorite mirrorless option for those starting out on their photography or video-making journeys. 

It's a big improvement over its X-T100 predecessor in almost every way, including autofocus, and has a fantastic 3.5in rear touchscreen. Unlike the Fujifilm X-A7 (see further down), you also get a viewfinder for framing shots, which is especially good news in bright light while travelling. We discovered that image quality was reliably lovely, and we loved the retro design.

The only downside we found during our tests is that the subject-tracking can be a little hit-and-miss during burst shooting and isn't available for video, but otherwise this is one of the best cheap cameras around for those who want a new mirrorless model.

A Sony A6000 sitting on some grey material

(Image credit: Future)
It’s a high-spec camera at a low-spec price

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C CMOS, 24.3MP
Lens mount: Sony E-mount
Screen: 3.0-inch tilt-angle, 921K dots
Viewfinder: Yes, EVF
Continuous shooting speed: 11fps
Movies: 1080p
User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Reasons to buy

+
Good specs even now
+
11fps burst shooting

Reasons to avoid

-
No touchscreen
-
Full HD video only

Don’t let the price fool you. The A6000 costs the same as other entry-level DSLR and mirrorless cameras, but it’s an advanced and powerful camera that has only dropped to this price through being on the market since 2014. 

So, it may be old, but most of the specifications still looks surprisingly fresh today. This includes a 24MP APS-C sensor, a fast hybrid 179-point autofocus system and continuous shooting at 11 frames per second (fps). We found during our test of it that it delivered fantastic image quality.

Its age shows in other areas, though; it only shoots 1080p Full HD video and not 4K, and the screen isn’t touch sensitive - which we found to be a little frustrating for setting AF point. Still, the latter is still the case on many Sony cameras and the A6000’s high-end features ensure that it's a camera that will grow with you.

An Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV sitting on a tripod

(Image credit: Future)
A compact and competent stills camera for beginners

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: 20.3MP
Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
Monitor: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,037K dots
Viewfinder: 2.36m-dot EVF
Continuous shooting: 15fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Capable stabilized sensor
+
Compact body

Reasons to avoid

-
No microphone input
-
Autofocus isn’t cutting edge

If you’re an eager beginner who's in the market for a compact mirrorless camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV should be at the top of your list. An affordable Micro Four Thirds model, the Mark IV pairs a capable 20.3MP sensor with impressive in-body image stabilization to deliver consistently attractive images using the kit lens. 

With footage capped at 4K/30p and no microphone or headphone input, video isn’t a major focus. Instead, this is a small, powerful camera for stills: we discovered in our review that dynamic range is better than anything a smartphone can capture, while that IBIS system keeps images sharp even when shooting handheld after dark.

We found that AF tracking across the Mark IV’s 121 points can be a little patchy, but improved face detection and subject tracking from the Mark III mean it’s largely reliable. Our tip is to stick to centre point focus and you’ll find it fast, even in low light.

An ergonomic grip, approachable button layout and handy flip-down touchscreen make the Mark IV an accessible upgrade for smartphone photographers. And with a wide catalogue of lenses available, it shapes up one of the best cheap cameras around if you want a modern mirrorless experience.

The Polaroid Go at the beach

(Image credit: Future)
A dinky instant snapper at a compact price

Specifications

Type: Instant
Sensor: Analogue
Lens mount: N/A
Monitor: N/A
Viewfinder: Analogue
Continuous shooting: N/A
Movies: N/A
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Point-and-shoot simplicity
+
Properly dinky dimensions

Reasons to avoid

-
Fixed focus can be tricky
-
No close-up mode

Budget cameras don’t come much cuter than the Polaroid Go - we loved the vintage looks of this model in our tests. 

The pint-sized point-and-shoot is supremely easy to use: its compact retro shell features just a few straightforward controls, complemented by a handy digital shot counter. Fixed focus and no macro mode mean creativity is a little limited, but the Polaroid Go does feature flash override, self-timer and double exposure options to keep analogue photographers entertained. 

Though the credit-card sized prints produced are a little on the small side, we discovered in our review that their pastel tones and impressive detail give them an eye-catching lo-fi quality. There are a few less expensive alternatives – and film refills could be cheaper – but you won’t find a more accessible or portable way to enjoy the fun of instant photography.

The Panasonic Lumix FZ80 / FZ82 camera on a sandy beach

(Image credit: Future)
A 60x zoom bridge camera with a super-low price tag

Specifications

Sensor: 1/2.3-inch CMOS, 18.1MP
Lens: 20-1200mm, f/2.8-5.9
Monitor: 3-inch touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
Viewfinder: EVF
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps
Movies: 4K
User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to use
+
Effective image stabilization

Reasons to avoid

-
No eye sensor for EVF
-
Weak high-ISO performance

The Lumix FZ80 (also known as the Lumix FZ82 outside the US) is still one of the most affordable bridge cameras you can buy, but it remains a solid choice if zoom reach is your priority. Its lens go from an ultra-wide 20mm all the way to the far reaches of 1200mm, and we found during our tests that produces decent image quality as long as you're aware of its limitations. 

We found it best to shoot no higher than ISO 800, or ISO 1600 in an emergency, so it's best to avoid low light. But in daylight conditions it's still a very useful companion, particularly at this price – and we found that Panasonic's Power O.I.S. image stabilization kept things nice and stable at longer focal lengths. Sure, the viewfinder could be better, but this remains one of the best cheap bridge cameras around.

The Canon EOS M50 Mark II sitting on a bookshelf

(Image credit: Future)
Canon's best budget mirrorless camera

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor size: APS-C CMOS
Resolution: 24.1MP
Effective focal length: N/A
Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36 million dots
Monitor: 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1.04 million dots
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth
Max movie resolution: 4K
Size, weight: 116 x 88 x 59mm, 390g

Reasons to buy

+
Handy, vari-angle touchscreen
+
Impressive Dual Pixel Autofocus

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavily cropped 4K video
-
Limited native lenses

Not everyone needs a cutting-edge camera, which is why the M50 Mark II remains a popular mid-range mirrorless model. A fun, approachable option that offers great image quality, the M50 continues to represent good value for money. In our tests, the 24.1MP APS-C CMOS performed well – noise was nicely controlled, while detail and dynamic range was impressive. It also has a large and bright EVF, along with a handy vari-angle touchscreen.

Naturally, there are some limitations. The finish is a bit plasticky and lacks weather-proofing, and we thought battery life could have been a bit better (its official CIPA rating is a fairly limited 305 shots per charge). Video shooters should also bear in mind that there's a heavy 1.6x crop when shooting 4K. Still, despite these quibbles, the M50 Mark II remains one of the best budget cameras around (as is its EOS M50 predecessor, if you can find stock).

A Panasonic TZ100 sitting on a bookshelf

(Image credit: Future)
An older travel zoom compact that’s still got serious skills

Specifications

Type: Compact
Sensor: 1-inch CMOS, 20.1MP
Lens mount: N/A
Screen: 3-inch, 1,040K-dot touchscreen
Viewfinder: 0.2-inch, 1,160K-dot EVF
Continuous shooting: 9.9fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
1-inch sensor
+
10x optical zoom
+
4K video

Reasons to avoid

-
Small electronic viewfinder
-
Fixed screen

Back in 2017, we called the Panasonic TZ100 “the perfect compact camera.” And, while several models have since arrived with superior specs, the TZ100 remains a fantastic option for those after an affordable compact travel camera.

Its metal shell is solid yet sufficiently small to slip into a pocket. The main controls are clustered on the back for easy one-handed control, while function buttons offer the welcome option of customization – and the touchscreen is responsive, too.

On the go, we discovered that the TZ100’s 1-inch sensor (which is larger than today's smartphones) delivers vibrant, punchy images with a fair level of detail for an older compact, even in low light. Dynamic range is also decent and noise isn’t generally an issue. The 10x optical zoom will be versatile enough for most, while the option of shooting 4K footage makes simple vlogs an option as well.

Sure, it's not quite as powerful as today’s premium compacts, but the TZ100 is plenty good enough for taking travel snaps to share online and will still surpass most smartphones, too. 

The Akaso Brave 7 LE on a wooden surface

(Image credit: Future)

9. Akaso Brave 7 LE

The best cheap action camera you can buy

Specifications

Weight: 127g
Waterproof: IPx7(no case needed), 40M (with case)
4K video: up to 30fps
1080 video: up to 120fps
720 video: up to 240fps
Stills resolution: 20MP
Battery life: 120 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Dual screens
+
Case-free water resistance
+
Class-leading build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Jumpy electronic stabilization
-
Cheaper options have better 4K

If you need a cheap action camera, then the Brave 7 LE should certainly make your shortlist. Considering its price tag, it's packed with features including weather-sealing and a front-facing screen that's handy for vloggers. We also found that this action cam's audio was better than any other action cam outside of GoPro, in quieter environments at least.

The Brave 7 LE also has an intuitive touchscreen interface, which is another feature that tends to be overlooked by budget action cams. Downsides? While the video quality is decent at 4K resolution, its slightly soft look doesn't quite match the rest of the action cam's features. The image stabilization also falls short of GoPro standards. But for the price, it's still one of the best all-round action cams you can buy.

A Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 on a red background

(Image credit: Future)

10. Fujifilm Instax Mini 9

Simple instant printing fun for all the family

Specifications

Type: Instant
Sensor: N/A
Lens mount: N/A
Screen: N/A
Viewfinder: Optical
Continuous shooting: N/A
Movies: N/A
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Simple to use
+
Excellent value

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited controls
-
Quality could be better

If it’s easy instant snaps you’re after, Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 9 remains a firm favorite, despite the arrival of the very similar Instax Mini 11. Forgoing almost all the controls you’d expect on a modern compact camera, the Mini 9 instead makes fun its focus. Look through the straightforward viewfinder, click the shutter button and in a jiffy you’ll find a credit card-sized print coming from the top of its retro shell. 

Charming for its simplicity, the plastic shell of the Instax Mini 9 ships in a spectrum of bold shades, while a little mirror on the front makes framing selfies a cinch. A simple five-level brightness adjustment dial is the extent of its inputs, making the affordable Mini 9 perfect for parties and play-dates. We found that print quality is naturally limited, but the idea here is to capture retro-style memories rather than crystal clear images. The color film is a little pricey, so you’ll want to make your shots count.

(Image credit: Future)

A Sony RX100 III sitting on a table

(Image credit: Future)
A great all-round compact camera with a large sensor

Specifications

Type: Compact
Sensor: 1-inch, 20.1MP
Lens: 24-70mm, f/1.8-2.8
Monitor: 3-inch, 1,300K dots
Viewfinder: EVF
Continuous shooting: 10fps
Movies: 1080p UHD
User level: Beginner/intermediate

Reasons to buy

+
High-res viewfinder
+
Large sensor
+
Bright lens

Reasons to avoid

-
No touchscreen
-
Limited Raw functionality

This series has now reached its seventh generation, but it's the RX100 Mark III that currently offers the best value for those looking to upgrade from their smartphone. It was the first model in the series with a built-in electronic viewfinder – a huge boon for shooting in sunny conditions – and it has a large 1-inch sensor, which we discovered in our tests produces excellent image quality. 

You also get a tilting screen and a speedy 10fps continuous shooting mode for capturing moving subjects. If you need 4K video or slo-mo video, then it's worth stretching to the RX100 Mark IV – but the Mark III has recently dropped to some impressively low prices for such a capable, smartphone-beating compact, making it one of the best budget cameras around.

The Panasonic G80 camera resting on a backpack

(Image credit: Future)
A dependable rangefinder-style mirrorless model

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Four Thirds Live MOS, 16MP
Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
Screen: 3.0-inch, tilting, 1040k-dot touchscreen
Viewfinder: OLED Live View Finder, 2764k-dots
Continuous shooting: 40fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner/intermediate

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent image quality
+
Great video features
+
Consistent and accurate AF

Reasons to avoid

-
Ergonomics could be better
-
Relatively low resolution

Now a few years old, the GX80/85 makes for a neat and compact little camera ideal for travel, video and everyday usage. 

It might “only” boast a 16 megapixel sensor, but it does well with what it’s got. We found it was capable of delivering excellent results in a good range of different conditions when we tested it. 

There’s also a helpful tilting screen, a decent viewfinder and good range of compatible lenses that you can use with the Micro Four Thirds format. Arguably it’s not as stylish as models from Olympus or Fujifilm, but if you want a solid and dependable model at a very affordable price, it’s a good option. 

An Olympus E-PL10 being held by two hands

(Image credit: Future)
A bargain beginner-friendly camera

Specifications

Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds
Resolution: 16.1MP
Viewfinder: N/A
Monitor: 3.0-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040K dots
Autofocus: 121-point AF, 1 cross-type
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8.6fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Stylish looks
+
Consistently great image quality
+
Very easy to use

Reasons to avoid

-
No viewfinder
-
Dated sensor

The Olympus Pen E-PL9 is now hard to find in stock, so if you're looking for a beginner-friendly mirrorless camera with an affordable price tag and a great range of lenses, we'd recommend checking out its E-PL10 successor.

Its small, friendly design means it isn't too intimidating, making it ideal for taking street shots or portraits. This does mean the E-PL10 lacks a built-in viewfinder, but those coming from a smartphone won't miss that – and it does otherwise combine good handling with a straightforward, beginner-friendly menu system.

We discovered that the E-PL10s tried-and-tested 16.1MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds sensor captures nicely rendered shots in most situations. And despite its compact size, its 3-axis image stabilization system is there to give you a helping hand in low light situations. At current prices, there aren't many interchangeable lens cameras that offer a better range of features than the E-PL10. 

A Fujifilm XP140 with splashes on it

(Image credit: Future)

14. Fujifilm XP140

Affordable and indestructible, this compact offers great value

Specifications

Type: Compact
Sensor: 1/2.3in BSI-CMOS, 16.4MP
Lens mount: N/A
Screen: 3-inch touchscreen, 920K dots
Viewfinder: N/A
Continuous shooting: 15fps
Movies: 4K/15p
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Properly rugged
+
5x optical zoom

Reasons to avoid

-
Disappointing 4K video
-
Screen could be brighter

Well-priced yet built tough, the Fujifilm XP140 is one investment that should pay dividends for those with clumsy hands. Dustproof, shockproof to 1.8m and freeze-proof to -10ºC, it’s also waterproof down to 25m – which means it should survive just about anything you can throw at it.

More than a beefed-up bargain camera, the XP140 can also capture great images. It keeps the same stabilized 16.4MP sensor as the XP140 but adds improved scene- and eye-detection smarts, which we found helps to deliver sharp portrait pictures. 4K footage is limited at 15fps, but 1080/60p video is smooth, while the option to shoot 720p slow-mo at 100fps is neat. The maximum ISO has also doubled to 12,800 which, with a back-illuminated sensor, makes for better low-light images, including underwater shots. 

5x optical zoom offers decent versatility for a rugged compact, while the 3-inch touchscreen makes controlling the camera straightforward. With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity also in the mix, the Fujifilm XP140 represents great value and is one of the best cheap cameras around for those who need something nigh-on indestructible.

An Olympus TG-6 in front of a white wall

(Image credit: Future)
A versatile compact that won’t crack under pressure

Specifications

Type: Compact
Sensor: 12MP
Lens mount: N/A
Monitor: 3.0-inch, 1,040K dots
Viewfinder: N/A
Continuous shooting: 20fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
 Intuitive to use
+
Raw shooting and 4K video

Reasons to avoid

-
Inconsistent stills quality
-
Small sensor inside

Breaking your camera is one way to make photography an expensive hobby. Investing in a rugged model should cut replacement costs – and the Olympus Tough TG-6 is one of the best tough cameras you can buy. Freeze-proof, shockproof and waterproof: its reassuringly industrial shell is robust enough to survive all manner of extreme scenarios. It’s also an intuitive camera to use. Large buttons make operation accessible, while an improved 3-inch LCD display ensures good visibility in bright conditions. 

Focusing is snappy and an equivalent zoom range of 25-100mm adds welcome versatility, even if a little detail is lost at the telephoto end. Our tests revealed that image quality is decent enough for a 1/2.3-inch sensor, with rich colors – although the TG-6 is prone to overexposure. The older TG-5 is similarly equipped and less expensive, but the TG-6 represents excellent value for adventurous photographers thanks to its significantly sharper screen.

A Nikon D5600 sitting on a glass table

(Image credit: Future)
A mid-range marvel that still has lots to offer

Specifications

Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Lens mount: Nikon DX
Screen: 3.2-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
Continuous shooting speed: 5fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Reasons to buy

+
Great image quality
+
Ergonomic design
+
Articulating touchscreen

Reasons to avoid

-
1080p video
-
Slow Live View focusing

The D5600 is a step up from the D3000-series models, with a stronger set of specs to rival the likes of the Canon EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D. 

We found in our review that the D5600 is capable of producing pleasingly sharp images, while the AF point did a decent job - particularly for slow-moving and static subjects.

Key advantages over the D3500 (listed in position one here) include a larger LCD screen, which not only flips out and swivels all the way around to face the front, but also responds to touch, together with a more advanced autofocus system, Wi-Fi and a healthy range of additional control on the inside. 

Sure, you pay a little extra for the privilege, but if you need a little more growing space it makes sense to go for the D5600 so that it stays with you for years to come.

How to pick the best cheap camera for you

Buying a budget camera will usually mean accepting a few compromises. A cheaper DSLR might not capture 4K footage, for example, while a more affordable mirrorless model may lack a viewfinder or shoot at lower burst speeds than its costlier competitors. But whichever type of camera you decide to buy, you should consider what and how you like to shoot – and make sure that, at the very least, it ticks the key boxes for your specific needs.

So if you normally shoot stills, a cheap camera’s video skills are less important. Instead of focusing on whether it can capture 4K footage, look for something with a decent sensor and a relatively high resolution (20MP and above). Similarly, if you’re happy framing with an optical viewfinder and using buttons to navigate system menus, you don’t need to worry too much about whether a camera has a sharp touchscreen interface. But it is always worth making sure that a camera’s handling is comfortable and that its physical controls are useful and accessible.

If you’re shopping for an affordable travel camera, your focus should be battery life and zoom versatility. Don’t get too caught up about software tricks or raw shooting. Those are nice extras, but it’s much easier to edit JPEGs when you’re back home than it is to crop in on a faraway subject.

And if you’re planning to buy an interchangeable lens camera, be sure to consider the cost of lenses. A camera body might be cheap, but expensive glass will limit your ability to experiment with different barrels. Look for a camera with a popular lens-mount (Micro Four Thirds, for example) to ensure you have maximum flexibility when it comes to buying new glass.

Which camera is best for a low budget?

The list above features a whole range of cameras to suit photographers with a limited budget. Which option is best for you will depend on what you’ll use your camera for and how versatile you’d like it to be. 

One option is to consider entry-level models like the Nikon D3500. These are designed with beginners in mind, so they usually offer simple, accessible controls and handling that’s easy to get to grips with. To keep costs down, entry-level cameras don’t usually include advanced features or performance, but should nail the basics. That means solid battery life, great handling and decent image quality.

Alternatively, you can consider slightly older mid-range mirrorless models. These won’t offer cutting-edge technology, but should still be very capable – especially if you’re upgrading from a smartphone. And because prices tend to be discounted as newer models arrive, cameras that are two or three years old will normally become much more affordable. Take a look at the Sony A6000 for a good example: its price now is a lot lower than when it launched in 2014, yet it still features a 24.3MP sensor, 11fps burst shooting and a capable 179-point autofocus system.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a cheap travel camera, powerful compacts like the Sony HX90V represent excellent value and versatility, thanks to an impressive 30x zoom range. Or if it’s outright bargain affordability that you’re after, instant cameras represent a cheap, accessible way to have some fun with photography. Cameras like the Polaroid Go are easy and enjoyable to use, producing immediate prints that make shooting more tactile.

And you don’t always need to be afraid of unknown names. The Apeman A100 action camera is an example of a camera with cheap looks and a budget body design, yet it captures great 4K video, even in low-light conditions.

The Canon EOS 80D being held to someone's face

(Image credit: Future)

How we test cheap cameras

We test cheap cameras in the same way as models with higher price tags – while value may play a more important role in our overall rankings, the cameras themselves still need to perform. Putting them through our usual test procedures let's us see which ones out-perform their price tags, and which haven't dated so well.

To start with, we look at the camera's design, handling and controls to get a feel for the kind of photographer it's most suitable for. We then take it out on a shoot, where we'll test its startup speed and use it both handheld and on a tripod.

To test the camera's performance, we use a formatted SD card and shoot in both raw and JPEG (if available). For burst shooting tests, we dial in our regular test settings (1/250 sec, ISO 200, continuous AF) and shoot a series of frames in front of a stopwatch to see if it matches its official speeds. We'll also look at how quickly the buffers clears and repeat the test for both raw and JPEG files.

In various lighting conditions, we also test the camera's different autofocus modes (including Face and Eye AF) in single point, area and continuous modes. We'll also shoot a mix of photos (portrait, low light, landscape, macro/close-up) in raw and JPEG to get a feel for the camera's metering accuracy and its sensor's ability to handle noise and resolve fine detail.

Assuming the camera's raw files are supported by Adobe Camera Raw, we'll also process some test images to see how far we can push areas like shadow recovery. We'll also test its ISO performance across the whole range to get a sense of the levels we'd be happy to push the camera to.

Battery life is tested in a real-world fashion, as we use the camera over the course of the day with the screen set to the default settings. Once the battery has hit zero, we'll then count the number of shots to see how it compares to the camera's official CIPA rating. Finally, we test the camera's video skills by shooting some test footage at different frame-rates and resolutions, along with its companion app.

We then take everything we've learned about the camera and factor in its price to get a sense of the value-for-money it offers, before reaching our final verdict.

Mark is the Cameras Editor at TechRadar. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on Stuff.tv, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile. 

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